ST. PETERSBURG — An army of harmony-loving, war-hating, tie-dye-wearing, peace sign-toting hippies will converge upon Lake Vista Park this weekend in a vibrant, multicolored festival.
No, it's not exactly a re-enactment of Woodstock, but close.
The event is the 37th Annual Circus McGurkis — the yearly gathering of peace activists organized by St. Petersburg's Quaker community.
This year's fair hopes to attract thousands, young and old, with a more political theme, "Vote Peacefully," to reflect the presidential election. The carnival that originated during the Vietnam War will bring the ideas of the 1970s back to life today.
"The situation today is very similar to the '70s," said event clerk Greg Stemm. "We're in two wars that we should not be in at all and the people are against the current government. We need a venue to express that frustration."
The festival, hosted by the St. Petersburg Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, a branch of the Quakers, will be a pro-peace "nonpartisan" gathering, explained Stemm. "We're not out there to represent any one political campaign this year," he said. "We're just encouraging people to vote for world peace and what that means to them."
While that might seem like a vague explanation, the more liberal organizations that will attend Circus McGurkis reveal which way the festival leans politically.
Groups like the Sierra Club, the Pinellas National Organization for Women and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship of Tampa will set up shop at the fair. The Barack Obama campaign has also confirmed that it will send volunteers to encourage early voting.
"We're really nonpartisan though," said Stemm. "I know for a fact that there are people in our church and people who will attend the festival who are Republicans and will vote for John McCain."
The McCain campaign was also invited to the fair but has not confirmed that it will attend.
The Society of Friends expects turnout to be at least 5,000 this year, especially with the well-timed political message.
"We'll probably have some of the same people who have been involved all 37 years … a lot of them still dress in their tie-dye shirts and have long hair," said Stemm. "It's not so much a lifestyle as it is a message … the message of peace is timeless."
One of the more timeless people planning to attend is 64-year-old Annie Ellis. Ellis has set up a booth at the fair each year since it began. She still believes strongly in the message of peace.
"My belief is once a hippie, always a hippie," Ellis said.
She is known for selling hand-painted rocks at Circus McGurkis and over time has earned the title, "rock lady."
"I have been painting rocks for the past 35 years," Ellis said.
Some of her rocks focus on the agelessness of the hippie generation. One of her legendary slogans is: "Old hippies never die, we're perennial."
For-profit vendors pay $35 to sell their merchandise at the fair.
One entrepreneur has found a way to profit off the festival's pro-harmony, anti-corporate message. Sean Vennett, a musician who has been attending Circus McGurkis for seven years, has marketed a peace logo that combines his political views with his love of music.
"I've come up with a musical treble clef combined with a peace sign," said Vennett, 59. "I've been playing music all my life and I'm a huge advocate of world peace," he explained. "Now I'm selling that logo embroidered on stickers, hats, visors, T-shirts and ladies' tops." Vennett plans to market his apparel at the fair.
Besides political, nonprofit and corporate booths, there will also be a number of activities for children as well as religious organizations. If you plan to go to Saturday's fair, be prepared to see lots of "peaceful" attire.
"I'll probably wear my tie-dye to the fair," predicted Ellis. "I would put myself in the hippie category … I'm wearing tie-dye right now."